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IT the Dilemma of Kurdish Language

Dilan Roshani, (10/01/2002)

Dilan RoshaniBrívan 7 years old from Northern Kurdistan, Serdar 9 years old from Western Kurdistan, Dara 8 years Old from Centarl Kurdistan, Yawer 10 years old from Southern Kurdistan, Aske 8 years old from Xurasan, and Buhar a Kurdish girl born in Germany share the same faith in their life. They all are Kurds and can not communicate with each other. They learn how to write in at least four different non-standard scripting systems for the same language. Due to the lack of a standard scripting code for the Kurdish language, they learn how to write Kurdish in different non-standard scripting codes. Any word they learn to write will make the gaps in their written communication become larger. They share the same language but they lack a functional bond for communication and that is a common recognized standard scripting system.

They dream in Kurdish, they talk in Kurdish, they communicate in Kurdish, their knowledge of any foreign language is zero, they do not know any scripting system to express their thoughts, still they would like to be seen as global as possible, and communicate with others who share the same language and culture despite the geographical location.

One might struggle to bring changes for a better future. The struggle of making the Kurdish language the primary choice of people in Kurdistan or Kurdish speakers elsewhere need to be based on the most fundamental language technology for today. Parts of these fundamental issues are related to electronic communications and archives, computer related activities and a scripting which follows international recognized codification according to ISO. It is clear that currently the Kurdish language codes and scripting systems keep the language body of Kurdistan fractioned.

While the communication media grows faster than ever, and needs for a standard internationally recognized scripting code is obvious more than ever, the Kurds are still expecting changes in an unexpected future Kurdish stat power. The history of Kurdish language shows that none of the survived Kurdish scripting codes used by Kurdish speakers today was proposed or adapted by any Kurdish state power. However, one may argue the possibility of converting between scripting systems but the language scripting system is not for people with a higher academic degree to learn how to convert different scripts from one system to another. The language scripting codes should answer the users' needs at any level and let them communicate in a holistic sense. The Kurdish language should be modified in a way to serve all the users.

Kurdistan has to overcome the limitation and the barrier of the current scripting codes by adapting a long term plan to a unified alphabet for the "Kurdish language" as one which might as well allow the user to read Kurdish of any dialect or sub-dialect. Today due to the lack of a common education system the majority of Kurds are unlettered in their mother tongue. Due to the high numbers of unlettered Kurdish speakers, Kurdistan has a historical chance to bring the Kurdish language to a stage to play its true communication and literature role as for all users of Kurdish language anywhere by adapting a modified and unified scripting system. Any plan for changes in the codification of the Kurdish Language toward a unified Kurdish alphabet scripting system can only be beneficial historically to represent the Kurdish language with one international accepted standard code. This might as well create a medium where all dialects of the Kurdish language may evolve in a unified common Kurdish language in the future. A unified common Kurdish alphabet scripting system has to be modified out of the existing Kurdish scripting systems and make the best practice use of all the experience of the Kurdish language codification from past. This will help to bring together the fractured language body of the Kurdish together and contribute to a more unified education system through out the Kurdistan.

What is a language?

Language is the principal means used by human beings to communicate with one another. Language is primarily spoken, although it can be transferred to other media, such as writing. If the spoken means of communication is unavailable, as may be the case among the deaf, visual means such as sign language can be used. A prominent characteristic of language is that the relation between a linguistic sign and its meaning is arbitrary: There is no reason other than convention among speakers of Kurdish that a "Seg" Dog should be called "seg", and indeed other languages have different names (for example, Spanish perro, Russian sobaka, Japanese inu). Spoken human language is composed of sounds that do not in themselves have meaning, but that can be combined with other sounds to create entities that do have meaning. Thus p, e, and n do not in themselves have any meaning, but the combination pen does have a meaning. Language also is characterized by complex syntax whereby elements, usually words, are combined into more complex constructions, called phrases, and these constructions in turn play a major role in the structures of sentences.

What is an alphabet?

It is a set of symbols or characters used to represent the sounds of a language. Each character in an alphabet usually represents a simple vowel, a diphthong, or a consonant, rather than a syllable or a group of consonants and vowels. The term alphabet, as used by some, however, also includes the concept of syllabaries (Britannica 2001). An alphabet is a system of representing the sounds of a language by a set of clearly understandable and reproducible symbols. This generally involves assigning to the most common sounds their own individual graphemes, or written forms.

What is the Latin alphabet?

The Latin alphabet (also called Roman alphabet) is the most widely used alphabetic writing system in the world, the standard script of the English language and the languages of most of Europe. Developed from the Etruscan alphabet at some time before 600 BC, it can be traced through Etruscan, Greek, and Phoenician scripts to the North Semitic alphabet used in Middle East about 1100 BC. The earliest inscription in the Latin alphabet appears on the Praeneste Fibula, a cloak pin dating from about the 7th century BC, which reads, "MANIOS MED FHEFHAKED NUMASIOI" (in Classical Latin: "Manius me fecit Numerio," meaning "Manius made me for Numerius"). Dated not much later than this is a vertical inscription on a small pillar in the Roman Forum, and the Duenos inscription on a vase found near the Quirinal (a hill in Rome) probably dates to the 6th century BC. Although experts disagree on the dating of these objects, the inscriptions are generally considered to be the oldest extant examples of the Latin alphabet (Britannica 2001). Semitic alphabet was the earliest fully developed alphabetic writing system. It was used in Syria as early as the 11th century BC and is probably ancestral, either directly or indirectly, to all subsequent alphabetic scripts, with the possible exception of those scripts classified as South Semitic (e.g., Ethiopic, Sabaean). Apparently related to the earlier writing systems seen in the Canaanite and Siaitic inscriptions, North Semitic gave rise to the Phoenician and Aramaic alphabets, which, in turn, developed into the European, Semitic, and Indian alphabets. North Semitic had 22 letters, all representing consonants, and was written from right to left; these characteristics are typical of most of the later Semitic alphabets (e.g., Hebrew and Arabic).

A practical proposal

The Kurdish dialects divide into three primaries groups: 1) the Northern Kurdish dialects group also called Kurmanjí and Badínaní, 2) Central Kurdish dialects group also called Soraní and 3) the Southern Kurdish dialects group also in some sources called Pehlewaní or "Pahlawanik" group. The three other major branches of Kurdish language are, Dimilí group also called "Zaza", Hewramí group also in some sources called Goraní (Gúrní) and the Lurrí group. These are further divided into scores of dialects and sub-dialects as well (KAL 2001).

Today, Kurds use four different non-standard writing systems. Northern Kurds use a modified Latin-Turkish alphabet; Central Kurds use a modified Arabic alphabet; Kurds in formerly USSR use a modified Cyrillic alphabet; and some Kurds in South-eastern Kurdistan still use the Persian alphabet. The lack of a unified writing system makes publications and media in one part of Kurdistan useless in other parts. Without a unified writing system, it is impossible to develop a national Electronic Documentation Archive. Such communicative dysfunction is of particular concern in the digital age.

The Internet has created an atmosphere that only Kurdish modified and unified scripting can have a chance to survive as a communication mediate. Kurdish Language as a scripting system must serve the people in Kurdistan as one community not deny or prevent them to experience their existence and heritage.

The Kurdish scripting system is not represented in any Instructional standard code under the Kurdish Language code. According to ISO the Kurdish language classifies as KUR for ISO 639-2/B or bibliographic code, KUR for ISO 639-2/T or terminology code and KU for ISO 639-1, which is an alphabetic code (ISO 2001). Today as the result of fast growing electronic communication and archiving system and advance Information Technology many Computer software are developed with bases for existing pre-defined International Scripting codes. Because the Kurdish language remains un-coded and for other reasons like multi scripting coding system representing Kurdish Language, an indirect consumer market for the Kurdish has developed which relies on modified Arabic, Turkish, and/or Persian software to write and archive in Kurdish.

The Kurdish Academy of Language KAL on the Internet is an initiative to lead discussion of a Kurdish language scripting system. By proposing a unified Kurdish scripting system KAL has started to test the ability of the Kurdish language to serve the Kurdish community through the Internet and other media. All characters of this unified alphabet has been chosen carefully among ISO-8859-1 "Latin 1 " for West European languages to keep the Kurdish unified alphabet character to follow only one worldwide standard. Now Kurdish can be practiced on Internet without any limitation no matter the geographical position. A scripting system, which prevents a community from practicing their culture significantly, complicates the bond between generations, and loses focus over time in the rapid growth era of media and IT.

This unified writing system is also geared toward providing users with easy access to publications on the Internet and to electronic mail (e-mail), as well as the capability to create dictionaries, spell-checkers, and keyboard layouts using the most common operating systems and word processors (such as Microsoft products). The unified electronic-friendly alphabet can appear in any browser without limitations. Any publication can be distributed and used in any part of Kurdistan or the world. Any old Kurdish manuscript (in any language, any dialects and any sources) can be easily rewritten in the unified alphabet to be posted on the World Wide Web for public use and research work. The unified Kurdish alphabet will make language learning in an interactive medium with unlimited access more popular among Kurds. Writing in Kurdish has never been so easy!

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